Socioemotional Development in Middle and Late Childhood

By Santrock, J.W.

Edited by Paul Ducham


In middle and late childhood, especially from 8 to 11 years of age, children increasingly describe themselves in terms of psychological characteristics and traits, in contrast with the more concrete self-descriptions of younger children. For example, older children are more likely to describe themselves using adjectives such as “ popular, nice, helpful, mean, smart, and dumb ” (Harter, 2006, p. 526).
In addition, during the elementary school years, children become more likely to recognize social aspects of the self (Harter, 2012). They include references to social groups in their selfdescriptions, such as referring to themselves as Girl Scouts, as Catholics, or as someone who has two close friends (Livesly & Bromley, 1973).
Children’s self-understanding in the elementary school years also includes increasing reference to social comparison (Harter, 2012). At this point in development, children are more likely to distinguish themselves from others in comparative rather than in absolute terms. That is, elementary-school-age children are no longer as likely to think about what they do or do not do, but are more likely to think about what they can do in comparison with others.
Consider a series of studies in which Diane Ruble (1983) investigated children’s use of social comparison in their self-evaluations. Children were given a difficult task and then offered feedback on their performance, as well as information about the performances of other children their age. The children were then asked for self-evaluations. Children younger than 7 made virtually no reference to the information about other children’s performances. However, many children older than 7 included socially comparative information in their self-descriptions.
In sum, in middle and late childhood, self-description increasingly involves psychological and social characteristics, including social comparison.


This article describes the advances and limitations of young children’s social understanding. In middle and late childhood, perspective taking, the social cognitive process involved in assuming the perspective of others and understanding their thoughts and feelings, improves. Among the executive functions called on when children engage in perspective taking are cognitive inhibition (controlling one’s own thoughts to consider the perspective of others) and cognitive flexibility (seeing situations in different ways). In Robert Selman’s (1980) view, at about 6 to 8 years of age, children begin to understand that others may have a different perspective because some people have more access to information. Then, he says, in the next several years, children begin to realize that each individual is aware of the other’s perspective and that putting oneself in the other’s place is a way of judging the other person’s intentions, purposes, and actions. Perspective taking is thought to be especially important in determining whether children develop prosocial or antisocial attitudes and behavior. In terms of prosocial behavior, taking another’s perspective improves children’s likelihood of understanding and sympathizing with others when they are distressed or in need. A recent study revealed that in children characterized as being emotionally reactive, good perspective-taking skills were linked to being able to regain a neutral emotional state aft er being emotionally aroused (Bengtsson & Arvidsson, 2011). In this study, children who made gains in perspective-taking skills reduced their emotional reactivity over a two-year period. In middle and late childhood, children also become more skeptical of others’ claims (Mills, Elashi, & Archacki, 2011). Even 4-year-old children show some skepticism of others’ claims. In middle and late childhood, children become increasingly skeptical of some sources of information about psychological traits. For example, in one study, 10- to 11-year-olds were more likely to reject other children’s self-reports that they were smart and honest than were 6- to 7-year-olds (Heyman & Legare, 2005). The more psychologically sophisticated 10- to 11-year-olds also showed a better understanding that others’ self-reports may involve socially desirable tendencies than the 6- to 7-year-olds did.


High self-esteem and a positive self-concept are important characteristics of children’s well-being (Marsh, Martin, & Xu, 2012; Rochat, 2013). Investigators sometimes use the terms self-esteem and self-concept interchangeably or do not precisely define them, but there is a meaningful difference between them. Self-esteem refers to global evaluations of the self; it is also called self-worth or self-image. For example, a child may perceive that she is not merely a person but a good person. Self-concept refers to domain-specific evaluations of the self. Children can make self-evaluations in many domains of their lives — academic, athletic, appearance, and so on. In sum, self-esteem refers to global self-evaluations, self-concept to domain-specific evaluations.
The foundations of self-esteem and self-concept emerge from the quality of parent-child interaction in infancy and early childhood. Thus, if children have low self-esteem in middle and late childhood, they may have experienced neglect or abuse in relationships with their parents earlier in development. Children with high self-esteem are more likely to be securely attached to parents and have parents who engage in sensitive caregiving (Thompson, 2011, 2013a, b, c, d).
Self-esteem reflects perceptions that do not always match reality (Baumeister & others, 2003; Pauletti & others, 2012). A child’s self-esteem might reflect a belief about whether he or she is intelligent and attractive, for example, but that belief is not necessarily accurate. Thus, high self-esteem may refer to accurate, justified perceptions of one’s worth as a person and one’s successes and accomplishments, but it can also refer to an arrogant, grandiose, unwarranted sense of superiority over others (Krueger, Vohs, & Baumeister, 2008). In the same manner, low self-esteem may reflect either an accurate perception of one’s shortcomings or a distorted, even pathological insecurity and inferiority.
Variations in self-esteem have been linked with many aspects of children’s development. However, much of the research is correlational rather than experimental. Correlation does not equal causation. Thus, if a correlational study finds an association between children’s low self-esteem and low academic achievement, low academic achievement could cause the low self-esteem as much as low self-esteem causes low academic achievement.
In fact, there are only moderate correlations between school performance and self-esteem, and these correlations do not suggest that high self-esteem produces better school performance (Baumeister & others, 2003). Efforts to increase students’ self-esteem have not always led to improved school performance (Davies & Brember, 1999).
Children with high self-esteem have greater initiative, but this can produce positive or negative outcomes (Baumeister & others, 2003). Childen with high-self-esteem are prone to both prosocial and antisocial actions (Krueger, Vohs, & Baumeister, 2008).
In addition, a current concern is that too many of today’s children grow up receiving praise for mediocre or even poor performance and as a consequence have inflated self-esteem (Graham, 2005; Stipek, 2005). They may have difficulty handling competition and criticism. Th is theme is vividly captured by the title of a book, Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can’t Read, Write, or Add (Sykes, 1995).


The belief that one can master a situation and produce favorable outcomes is called self-efficacy. Albert Bandura (2001, 2008, 2010a, 2012) states that self-efficacy is a critical factor in whether or not students achieve. Self-efficacy is the belief that “I can”; helplessness is the belief that “I cannot”. Students with high self-efficacy endorse such statements as “I know that I will be able to learn the material in this class” and “I expect to be able to do well at this activity.”
Dale Schunk (2012) has applied the concept of self-efficacy to many aspects of students’ achievement. In his view, self-efficacy influences a student’s choice of activities. Students with low self-efficacy for learning may avoid many learning tasks, especially those that are challenging. By contrast, high-self-efficacy counterparts eagerly work at learning tasks (Schunk,2012). Students with high-efficacy are more likely to expend effort and persist longer at a learning task than students with low self-efficacy.


One of the most important aspects of the self in middle and late childhood is the increased capacity for self-regulation. Th is increased capacity is characterized by deliberate efforts to manage one’s behavior, emotions, and thoughts, leading to increased social competence and achievement (Thompson, 2013c, d). A recent study found that self-control increased from 4 years to 10 years of age and that high self-control was linked to lower levels of deviant behavior (Vazsonyi & Huang, 2010). In this study, parenting characterized by warmth and positive affect predicted the developmental increase in self-control. Another recent study revealed that children from low-income families who had a higher level of self-regulation earned better grades in school than their counterparts who had a lower level of self-regulation (Buckner, Mezzacappa, & Beardslee, 2009). The increased capacity for self-regulation is linked to developmental advances in the brain’s prefrontal cortex, “Physical and Cognitive Development in Middle and Late Childhood.” Recall our discussion there of the increased focal activation in the prefrontal cortex that is linked to improved cognitive control, which includes self-regulation (Diamond, 2013).


The article describes Erik Erikson’s (1968) eight stages of human development. His fourth stage, industry versus inferiority, appears during middle and late childhood. The term industry expresses a dominant theme of this period: Children become interested in how things are made and how they work. When children are encouraged in their efforts to make, build, and work — hether building a model airplane, constructing a tree house, fixing a bicycle, solving an addition problem, or cooking — their sense of industry increases. However, parents who see their children’s efforts at making things as “mischief ” or “making a mess” encourage children’s development of a sense of inferiority.
Children’s social worlds beyond their families also contribute to a sense of industry. School becomes especially important in this regard. Consider children who are slightly below average in intelligence. They are too bright to be in special classes but not bright enough to be in gifted classes. They fail frequently in their academic efforts, developing a sense of inferiority. By contrast, consider children whose sense of industry is derogated at home. A series of sensitive and committed teachers may revitalize their sense of industry (Elkind, 1970).


Developmental changes in emotions during the middle and late childhood years include the following (Denham, Bassett, & Wyatt, 2007; Denham & others, 2011; Kuebli, 1994; Thompson, 2013c, d):
Improved emotional understanding. For example, children in elementary school develop an increased ability to understand such complex emotions as pride and shame. These emotions become less tied to the reactions of other people; they become more selfgenerated and integrated with a sense of personal responsibility.
Increased understanding that more than one emotion can be experienced in a particular situation. A third-grader, for example, may realize that achieving something might involve both anxiety and joy.
Increased tendency to be aware of the events leading to emotional reactions. A fourthgrader may become aware that her sadness today is influenced by her friend moving to another town last week.
Ability to suppress or conceal negative emotional reactions. A fifth-grader has learned to tone down his anger better than he used to when one of his classmates irritates him.
The use of self-initiated strategies for redirecting feelings. In the elementary school years, children become more reflective about their emotional lives and increasingly use strategies to control their emotions. They become more effective at cognitively managing their emotions, such as soothing themselves after an upset.
A capacity for genuine empathy. For example, a fourth-grader feels sympathy for a distressed person and experiences vicariously the sadness the distressed person is feeling.


An important aspect of children’s emotional lives is learning how to cope with stress (Masten, 2013). As children get older, they are able to more accurately appraise a stressful situation and determine how much control they have over it. Older children generate more coping alternatives to stressful conditions and use more cognitive coping strategies (Saarni & others, 2006). They are better than younger children at intentionally shifting their thoughts to something that is less stressful and at reframing, or changing their perception of a stressful situation. For example, younger children may be very disappointed that their teacher did not say hello to them when they arrived at school. Older children may reframe this type of situation and think, “She may have been busy with other things and just forgot to say hello.”
By 10 years of age, most children are able to use these cognitive strategies to cope with stress (Saarni, 1999). However, in families that have not been supportive and are characterized by turmoil or trauma, children may be so overwhelmed by stress that they do not use such strategies.
Disasters can especially harm children’s development and produce adjustment problems (Franks, 2011; McDermott & Cobham, 2012). Among the outcomes for children who experience disasters are acute stress reactions, depression, panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (Salloum & Overstreet, 2012). The likelihood that a child will face these problems following a disaster depends on factors such as the nature and severity of the disaster and the type of support available to the child.
In research on disasters/trauma, the term dose-response effects is often used. A widely supported finding in this research area is that the more severe the disaster/trauma (dose), the worse the adaptation and adjustment (response) following the disaster/trauma (Masten, 2013; Masten & Narayan, 2012).
The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on September 11, 2001, and hurricanes Katrina and Rita in September 2005 raised special concerns about how to help children cope with such stressful events. Researchers have offered the following recommendations for parents, teachers, and other adults caring for children aft er a disaster (Gurwitch & others, 2001, pp. 4–11):
• Reassure children (numerous times, if necessary) of their safety and security.
• Allow children to retell events and be patient in listening to them.
• Encourage children to talk about any disturbing or confusing feelings, reassuring them that such feelings are normal aft er a stressful event.
• Protect children from re-exposure to frightening situations and reminders of the trauma — for example, by limiting discussion of the event in front of the children.
• Help children make sense of what happened, keeping in mind that children may misunderstand what took place. For example, young children “may blame themselves, believe things happened that did not happen, believe that terrorists are in the school, etc. Gently help children develop a realistic understanding of the event” (p. 10). Traumatic events may cause individuals to think about the moral aspects of life. Hopelessness and despair may short-circuit moral development when a child is confronted by the violence of war zones and impoverished inner cities (Nader, 2001). Let’s further explore children’s moral development.


Based on the answers interviewees gave for this and other moral dilemmas, Kohlberg described three levels of moral thinking, each of which is characterized by two stages (see Figure 10.1). A key concept in understanding progression through the levels and stages is that the person’s morality gradually becomes more internal or mature. That is, their reasons for moral decisions or values begin to go beyond the external or superficial reasons they gave when they were younger. Let’s further examine Kohlberg’s stages.
 FIGURE 10.2


Preconventional reasoning is the lowest level of moral reasoning in Kohlberg’s theory and consists of two stages: punishment and obedience orientation (stage 1) and individualism, instrumental purpose, and exchange (stage 2).
• Stage 1. Heteronomous morality is the first Kohlberg stage of moral development. At this stage, moral thinking is often tied to punishment. For example, children and adolescents obey adults because adults tell them to obey.
• Stage 2. Individualism, instrumental purpose, and exchange is the second stage of Kohlberg’s theory. At this stage, individuals pursue their own interests but also let others do the same. Thus, what is right involves an equal exchange. People are nice to others so that others will be nice to them in return.


Conventional reasoning is the second, or intermediate, level in Kohlberg’s theory of moral development. Individuals abide by certain standards (internal), but they are the standards of others, such as parents or the laws of society. The conventional reasoning level consists of two stages: mutual interpersonal expectations, relationships, and interpersonal conformity (stage 3) and social systems morality (stage 4).
• Stage 3. Mutual interpersonal expectations, relationships, and interpersonal conformity is Kohlberg’s third stage of moral development. At this stage, individuals value trust, caring, and loyalty to others as a basis of moral judgments. Children and adolescents often adopt their parents’ moral standards at this stage, seeking to be thought of by their parents as a “good girl” or a “good boy.”
• Stage 4. Social systems morality is the fourth stage in Kohlberg’s theory of moral development. At this stage, moral judgments are based on understanding the social order, law, justice, and duty. For example, adolescents may reason that in order for a community to work effectively, it needs to be protected by laws that are adhered to by its members.


Postconventional reasoning is the third and highest level in Kohlberg’s theory. At this level, morality is more internal. The postconventional level of morality consists of two stages: social contract or utility and individual rights (stage 5) and universal ethical principles (stage 6).
• Stage 5. Social contract or utility and individual rights is the fifth Kohlberg stage. At this stage, individuals reason that values, rights, and principles undergird or transcend the law. A person evaluates the validity of actual laws and examines social systems in terms of the degree to which they preserve and protect fundamental human rights and values.
• Stage 6. Universal ethical principles is the sixth and highest stage in Kohlberg’s theory of moral development. At this stage, the person has developed a moral standard based on universal human rights. When faced with a conflict between law and conscience, the person will follow conscience, even though the decision might involve personal risk.
Kohlberg maintained that these levels and stages occur in a sequence and are age-related: Before age 9, most children use level 1, preconventional reasoning based on external rewards and punishments, when they consider moral choices. By early adolescence, their moral reasoning is increasingly based on the application of standards set by others. Most adolescents reason at stage 3, with some signs of stages 2 and 4. By early adulthood, a small number of individuals reason in postconventional ways.
What evidence supports this description of development? A 20-year longitudinal investigation found that use of stages 1 and 2 decreased with age (Colby & others, 1983) (see Figure 10.2). Stage 4, which did not appear at all in the moral reasoning of 10-year-olds, was reflected in the moral thinking of 62 percent of the 36-year-olds. Stage 5 did not appear until age 20 to 22 and never characterized more than 10 percent of the individuals.
Thus, the moral stages appeared somewhat later than Kohlberg initially envisioned, and reasoning at the higher stages, especially stage 6, was rare. Although stage 6 has been removed from the Kohlberg moral judgment scoring manual, it still is considered to be theoretically important in the Kohlberg scheme of moral development.


What factors influence movement through Kohlberg’s stages? Although moral reasoning at each stage presupposes a certain level of cognitive development, Kohlberg argued that advances in children’s cognitive development did not ensure development of moral reasoning. Instead, moral reasoning also reflects children’s experiences in dealing with moral questions and moral conflict.
Several investigators have tried to advance individuals’ levels of moral development by having a model present arguments that reflect moral thinking one stage above each individual’s established level. Th is approach applies the concepts of equilibrium and conflict that Piaget used to explain cognitive development. By presenting arguments slightly beyond the children’s level of moral reasoning, the researchers created a disequilibrium that motivated the children to restructure their moral thought. The upshot of studies using this approach is that virtually any plus-stage discussion, for any length of time, seems to promote more advanced moral reasoning (Walker, 1982).
Kohlberg emphasized that peer interaction and perspective taking are critical aspects of the social stimulation that challenges children to change their moral reasoning. Whereas adults characteristically impose rules and regulations on children, the give-and-take among peers gives children an opportunity to take the perspective of another person and to generate rules democratically. Kohlberg stressed that in principle, encounters with any peers can produce perspective-taking opportunities that may advance a child’s moral reasoning. A recent research review of cross-cultural studies involving Kohlberg’s theory revealed strong support for a link between perspective-taking skills and more advanced moral judgments (Gibbs & others, 2007).


Kohlberg’s theory has provoked debate, research, and criticism (Berkowitz, 2012; Helwig & Turiel, 2011; Narvaez & others, 2012; Walker & Frimer, 2011). Key criticisms involve the link between moral thought and moral behavior, the roles of culture and the family in moral development, and the significance of concern for others.
Moral Thought and Moral Behavior Kohlberg’s  theory has been criticized for placing too much emphasis on moral thought and not enough emphasis on moral behavior (Walker, 2004). Moral reasons can sometimes be a shelter for immoral behavior. Corrupt CEOs and politicians endorse the loft iest of moral virtues in public before their own behavior is exposed. Whatever the latest public scandal, you will probably find that the culprits displayed virtuous thoughts but engaged in immoral behavior. No one wants a nation of cheaters and thieves who can reason at the postconventional level. The cheaters and thieves may know what is right yet still do what is wrong. Heinous actions can be cloaked in a mantle of moral virtue.

Culture and Moral Reasoning Kohlberg  emphasized that his stages of moral reasoning are universal, but some critics claim his theory is culturally biased (Gibbs, 2010; Miller, 2007). Both Kohlberg and his critics may be partially correct. One review of 45 studies in 27 cultures around the world, mostly non-European, provided support for the universality of Kohlberg’s first four stages (Snarey, 1987). Individuals in diverse cultures developed through these four stages in sequence as Kohlberg predicted. Stages 5 and 6, however, have not been found in all cultures (Gibbs & others, 2007; Snarey, 1987). Furthermore, Kohlberg’s scoring system does not recognize the higher-level moral reasoning of certain cultures and thus that level of moral reasoning is more culturespecific than Kohlberg envisioned (Snarey, 1987). In sum, although Kohlberg’s approach does capture much of the moral reasoning voiced in various cultures around the world, his approach misses or misconstrues some important moral concepts in particular cultures (Gibbs, 2010).
A recent study explored links between culture, mindset, and moral judgment (Narváez & Hill, 2010). In this study, a higher level of multicultural experience was linked to closed mindedness (being cognitively inflexible), a growth mindset (perceiving that one’s qualities can change and improve through effort), and higher moral judgment.

Families and Moral Development  Kohlberg argued that family processes are essentially unimportant in children’s moral development. As noted earlier, he argued that parent-child relationships usually provide children with little opportunity for give-and-take or perspective taking. Rather, Kohlberg said that such opportunities are more likely to be provided by children’s peer relationships.
Did Kohlberg underestimate the contribution of family relationships to moral development? Most experts on children’s moral development conclude that parents’ moral values and actions influence children’s development of moral reasoning (Laible & Thompson, 2007). Nonetheless, most developmentalists agree with Kohlberg and Piaget that peers play an important role in the development of moral reasoning.

Gender and the Care Perspective  The most publicized criticism of Kohlberg’s theory has come from Carol Gilligan (1982, 1992, 1996), who argues that Kohlberg’s theory reflects a gender bias. According to Gilligan, Kohlberg’s theory is based on a male norm that puts abstract principles above relationships and concern for others and sees the individual as standing alone and independently making moral decisions. It puts justice at the heart of morality. In contrast with Kohlberg’s justice perspective, Gilligan argues for a care perspective, which is a moral perspective that views people in terms of their connectedness with others and emphasizes interpersonal communication, relationships with others, and concern for others. According to Gilligan, Kohlberg greatly underplayed the care perspective, perhaps because he was a male, because most of his research was with males rather than females, and because he used male responses as a model for his theory.
However, questions have been raised about Gilligan’s gender conclusions (Walker & Frimer, 2009a). For example, a meta-analysis (a statistical analysis that combines the results of many different studies) casts doubt on Gilligan’s claim of substantial gender differences in moral judgment (Jaffee & Hyde, 2000). And a research review concluded that girls’ moral orientations are “somewhat more likely to focus on care for others than on abstract principles of justice, but they can use both moral orientations when needed (as can boys . . .)” (Blakemore, Berenbaum, & Liben, 2009, p. 132).


The domain theory of moral development states that there are different domains of social knowledge and reasoning, including moral, social conventional, and personal domains. In domain theory, children’s and adolescents’ moral, social conventional, and personal knowledge and reasoning emerge from their attempts to understand and deal with different forms of social experience (Smetana, 2011a, b).
Some theorists and researchers argue that Kohlberg did not adequately distinguish between moral reasoning and social conventional reasoning (Helwig & Turiel, 2011; Smetana, 2011a, b). Social conventional reasoning focuses on conventional rules that have been established by social consensus in order to control behavior and maintain the social system. The rules themselves are arbitrary, such as raising your hand in class before speaking, using one staircase at school to go up and the other to go down, not cutting in front of someone standing in line to buy movie tickets, and stopping at a stop sign when driving. There are sanctions if we violate these conventions, although they can be changed by consensus.
In contrast, moral reasoning focuses on ethical issues and rules of morality. Unlike conventional rules, moral rules are not arbitrary. They are obligatory, widely accepted, and somewhat impersonal (Helwig & Turiel, 2011). Rules pertaining to lying, cheating, stealing, and physically harming another person are moral rules because violation of these rules affronts ethical standards that exist apart from social consensus and convention. Moral judgments involve concepts of justice, whereas social conventional judgments are concepts of social organization. Violating moral rules is usually more serious than violating conventional rules.
The social conventional approach is a serious challenge to Kohlberg’s approach because Kohlberg argued that social conventions are a stop-over on the road to higher moral sophistication. For social conventional reasoning advocates, social conventional reasoning is not lower than postconventional reasoning but rather something that needs to be disentangled from the moral thread (Helwig & Turiel, 2011; Smetana, 2011a, b).
Recently, a distinction also has been made between moral and conventional issues, which are viewed as legitimately subject to adult social regulation, and personal issues, which are more likely subject to the child’s or adolescent’s independent decision making and personal discretion (Helwig & Turiel, 2011; Smetana, 2011a, b). Personal issues include control over one’s body, privacy, and choice of friends and activities. Thus, some actions belong to a personal domain and are not governed by moral reasoning or social norms.
Moral, conventional, and personal domains of reasoning arise in families. Moral issues include such areas as lying to parents about engaging in a deviant behavior and stealing money from a sibling. Conventional issues involve such matters as obeying curfews and deciding who takes out the garbage. Personal issues involve such things as musical preferences, styles of dress, what to put on the walls of one’s bedroom, and which friends to choose.
In domain theory, boundaries are developed regarding adult authority, which can produce parent-adolescent conflict. Adolescents have a large personal domain and most parents can live with that; however, parents have a larger moral domain than adolescents think is reasonable (Smetana, 2011a, b).


Whereas Kohlberg’s and Gilligan’s theories have focused primarily on the development of moral reasoning, the study of prosocial moral behavior has placed more emphasis on the behavioral aspects of moral development (Eisenberg, Spinrad, & Morris, 2013; Grusec & Sherman, 2011; Poorthuis & others, 2012). Children engage in immoral, antisocial acts such as lying and cheating and also display prosocial moral behavior such as showing empathy or acting altruistically. Even during the preschool years, children may care for others or comfort others in distress, but prosocial behavior occurs more often in adolescence than in childhood (Eisenberg & others, 2009).
William Damon (1988) described how sharing develops. During their first years, when children share, it is usually not for reasons of empathy but for the fun of the social play ritual or out of imitation. Then, at about 4 years of age, a combination of empathic awareness and adult encouragement produces a sense of obligation on the part of the child to share with others. Most 4-year-olds are not selfless saints, however. Children believe they have an obligation to share but do not necessarily think they should be as generous to others as they are to themselves.
Children’s sharing comes to reflect a more complex sense of what is just and right during middle and late childhood. By the start of the elementary school years, children begin to express objective ideas about fairness. It is common to hear 6-year-old children use the word fair as synonymous with equal or same. By the mid- to late elementary school years, children believe that equity can sometimes mean that people with special merit or special needs deserve special treatment.


Beyond the development of moral reasoning and specific moral feelings and prosocial behaviors, do children also develop a pattern of moral characteristics that is distinctively their own? In other words, do children develop a moral personality, and if so, what are its components? Researchers have focused attention on three possible components (Walker & Frimer, 2011): (1) moral identity, (2) moral character, and (3) moral exemplars:
Moral identity. Individuals have a moral identity when moral notions and moral commitments are central to their lives (Hardy & others, 2012). They construct the self with reference to moral categories. Violating their moral commitment would place the integrity of their self at risk. Recently, Darcia Narváez (2010) concluded that a mature moral individual cares about morality and being a moral person. For these individuals, moral responsibility is central to their identity. Mature moral individuals engage in moral metacognition, including moral self-monitoring and moral self-reflection. Moral self-monitoring involves monitoring one’s thoughts and actions related to moral situations, and engaging in self-control when it is needed. Moral self-reflection encompasses critical evaluations of one’s self-judgments and efforts to minimize bias and self-deception.
Moral character. A person with moral character has the willpower, desires, and integrity to stand up to pressure, overcome distractions and disappointments, and behave morally. A person of good moral character displays moral virtues such as “honesty, truthfulness, and trustworthiness, as well as those of care, compassion, thoughtfulness, and considerateness. Other salient traits revolve around virtues of dependability, loyalty, and conscientiousness” (Walker, 2002, p. 74).
Moral exemplars. Moral exemplars are people who have lived exemplary moral lives. Their moral personality, identity, character, and set of virtues reflect moral excellence and commitment (Walker & Frimer, 2008).
In sum, moral development is a multifaceted, complex concept. Included in this complexity are an individual’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and personality.


According to the old ditty, boys are made of “frogs and snails” and girls are made of “sugar and spice and all that is nice.” In the past, a well-adjusted boy was supposed to be independent, aggressive, and powerful. A well-adjusted girl was supposed to be dependent, nurturing, and uninterested in power. These notions reflect gender stereotypes, which are broad categories that reflect general impressions and beliefs about females and males.
Recent research has found that gender stereotypes are, to a great extent, still present in today’s world, both in the lives of children and adults (Leaper & Bigler, 2011; Matlin, 2012). Gender stereotyping continues to change during middle and late childhood and adolescence (Blakemore, Berenbaum, & Liben, 2009). By the time children enter elementary school, they have considerable knowledge about which activities are linked with being male or female. Until about 7 to 8 years of age, gender stereotyping is extensive because young children don’t recognize individual variations in masculinity and femininity. By 5 years of age, both boys and girls stereotype boys as powerful and in more negative terms, such as mean, and girls in more positive terms, such as nice (Martin & Ruble, 2010). Across the elementary school years, children become more flexible in their gender attitudes (Trautner & others, 2005).
A study of 3- to 10-year-old U.S. children revealed that girls and older children used a higher percentage of gender stereotypes (Miller & others, 2009). In this study, appearance stereotypes were more prevalent on the part of girls while activity (sports, for example) and trait (aggressive, for example) stereotyping was more commonly engaged in by boys. Another recent study of 6- to 10-year-olds found that both boys and girls indicated math is for boys (Cvencek, Meltzoff, & Greenwald, 2011). Researchers also have found that boys’ gender stereotypes are more rigid than girls’ (Blakemore, Berenbaum, & Liben, 2009).


What is the reality behind gender stereotypes? Let’s examine some of the similarities and differences between the sexes, keeping in mind that (1) the differences are averages — not all females versus all males; (2) even when differences are reported, there is considerable overlap between the sexes; and (3) the differences may be due primarily to biological factors, sociocultural factors, or both. First, we will examine physical similarities and differences, and then we will turn to cognitive and socioemotional similarities and differences.
Physical Development Women have about twice the body fat of men, most of it concentrated around their breasts and hips. In males, fat is more likely to go to the abdomen. On the average, males grow to be 10 percent taller than females. Other physical differences are less obvious. From conception on, females have a longer life expectancy than males, and females are less likely than males to develop physical or mental disorders. Males have twice the risk of coronary disease as females.
Does gender matter when it comes to brain structure and function? Human brains are much alike, whether the brain belongs to a male or a female (Halpern & others, 2007). However, researchers have found some differences in the brains of males and females (Hofer & others, 2007). For example, female brains are smaller than male brains, but female brains have more folds; the larger folds (called convolutions) allow more surface brain tissue within the skulls of females than males (Luders & others, 2004). An area of the parietal lobe that functions in visuospatial skills is larger in males than females (Frederikse & others, 2000). And the areas of the brain involved in emotional expression show more metabolic activity in females than males (Gur & others, 1995).
Although some differences in brain structure and function have been found, many of these differences are small or research is inconsistent regarding the differences. Also, when sex differences in the brain have been revealed, in many cases they have not been directly linked to psychological differences (Blakemore, Berenbaum, & Liben, 2009). Although research on sex differences in the brain is still in its infancy, it is likely that there are far more similarities than differences in the brains of females and males. A further point is worth noting: Anatomical sex differences in the brain may be due to the biological origins of these differences, behavioral experiences (which underscores the brain’s continuing plasticity), or a combination of these factors.
Cognitive Development No gender differences in general intelligence have been revealed, but some gender differences have been found in some cognitive areas (Blakemore, Berenbaum, & Liben, 2009). Research has shown that in general girls and women have slightly better verbal skills than boys and men, although in some verbal skill areas the differences are substantial (Blakemore, Berenbaum, & Liben, 2009). For example, in recent national assessments,girls were significantly better than boys in reading and writing (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2005, 2007). Are there gender differences in math skills? A recent very large-scale study of more than 7 million U.S. students in grades 2 through 11 revealed no differences in math test scores for boys and girls (Hyde & others, 2008). And a recent meta-analysis found no gender differences in math for adolescents (Lindberg & others, 2010). A recent research review concluded that girls have more negative math attitudes and that parents’ and teachers’ expectancies for children’s math competence are often gender-biased in favor of boys (Gunderson & others, 2012).
One area of math that has been examined for possible gender differences is visuospatial skills, which include being able to rotate objects mentally and to determine what they would look like when rotated (Halpern, 2012). These types of skills are important in courses such as plane and solid geometry and geography. A recent research review revealed that boys have better visuospatial skills than girls (Halpern & others, 2007). For example, despite equal participation in the National Geography Bee, in most years all 10 finalists are boys (Liben, 1995). However, some experts argue that the gender difference in visuospatial skills is small (Hyde, 2007; Hyde & Else-Quest, 2013) (see Figure 10.3).
Socioemotional Development Three areas of socioemotional development in which gender similarities and differences have been studied extensively are aggression, emotion, and prosocial behavior. One of the most consistent gender differences is that boys are more physically aggressive than girls are (Coyne, Nelson, & Underwood, 2011). The difference occurs in all cultures and appears very early in children’s development (White, 2001). The physical aggression difference is especially pronounced when children are provoked. Both biological and environmental factors have been proposed to account for gender differences in aggression. Biological factors include heredity and hormones. Environmental factors include cultural expectations, adult and peer models, and social agents that reward aggression in boys and punish aggression in girls.
Although boys are consistently more physically aggressive than girls, might girls show levels of verbal aggression, such as yelling, that equal or exceed the levels shown by boys? When verbal aggression is considered, gender differences often disappear, although sometimes verbal aggression is more pronounced in girls (Eagly & Steffen, 1986).
Recently, increased attention has been directed to relational aggression, which involves harming someone by manipulating a relationship. Relational aggression includes such behaviors as spreading malicious rumors about someone in order to make others dislike that person (Kawabata & others, 2012; Underwood, 2004, 2011). Relational aggression increases in middle and late childhood (Dishion & Piehler, 2009). Mixed findings have characterized research on whether girls show more relational aggression than boys, but one consistent finding is that relational aggression comprises a greater percentage of girls’ overall aggression than is the casefor boys (Putallaz & others, 2007). And a recent research review revealed that girls engage in more relational aggression than boys in adolescence but not in childhood (Smith, Rose, & Schwartz-Mette, 2010).
Gender differences occur in some aspects of emotion (Leaper & Bigler, 2011; Nolen-Hoeksema, 2012). Females express emotion more than do males, are better than males at decoding emotion, smile more, cry more, and are happier (Gross, Fredrickson, & Levenson, 1994; LaFrance, Hecht, & Paluck, 2003). Males report experiencing and expressing more anger than do females (Kring, 2000).
An important skill is to be able to regulate and control one’s emotions and behavior (Thompson, Winer, & Goodvin, 2011). Boys usually show less self-regulation than girls (Eisenberg, Spinrad, & Eggum, 2010). Th is low self-control can translate into behavior problems. 
Are there gender differences in prosocial behavior? Females view themselves as more prosocial and empathic (Eisenberg & Morris, 2004). Across childhood and adolescence, females engage in more prosocial behavior (Hastings, Utendale, & Sullivan, 2007). The biggest gender difference occurs for kind and considerate behavior, with a smaller difference in sharing.
According to Carol Gilligan’s theory, many females are more sensitive about relationships and have better relationship skills than males do.

FIGURE 10.3  


Not long ago, it was accepted that boys should grow up to be masculine and girls to be feminine. In the 1970s, however, as both females and males became dissatisfied with the burdens imposed by their stereotypical roles, alternatives to femininity and masculinity were proposed. Instead of describing masculinity and femininity based on a continuum in which more of one means less of the other, it was proposed that individuals could have both masculine and feminine traits.
This thinking led to the development of the concept of androgyny, the presence of positive masculine and feminine characteristics in the same person (Bem, 1977; Spence & Helmreich, 1978). The androgynous boy might be assertive (masculine) and nurturant (feminine). The androgynous girl might be powerful (masculine) and sensitive to others’ feelings (feminine). Measures have been developed to assess androgyny (see Figure 10.4).
Gender experts such as Sandra Bem argue that androgynous individuals are more flexible, competent, and mentally healthy than their masculine or feminine counterparts. To some degree, though, which gender-role classification is best depends on the context involved. For example, in close relationships, feminine and androgynous orientations might be more desirable. One study found that girls and individuals high in femininity showed a stronger interest in caring than did boys and individuals high in masculinity (Karniol, Grosz, & Schorr, 2003). However, masculine and androgynous orientations might be more desirable in traditional academic and work settings because of the achievement demands in these contexts.
Despite talk about the “sensitive male,” William Pollack (1999) argues that little has been done to change traditional ways of raising boys. He says that the “boy code” tells boys that they should show little if any emotion and should act tough. Boys learn the boy code in many contexts — sandboxes, playgrounds, schoolrooms, camps, hangouts. The result, according to Pollack, is a “national crisis of boyhood.” Pollack and others suggest that boys would benefit from being socialized to express their anxieties and concerns and to better regulate their aggression.


Both the concept of androgyny and gender stereotypes describe people in terms of personality traits such as “aggressive” or “caring.” However, the traits people display may vary with the situation (Leaper & Bigler, 2011). Thus, the nature and extent of gender differences may depend on the context (Blakemore, Berenbaum, & Liben, 2009).
Consider helping behavior. The stereotype is that females are better than males at helping. But it depends on the situation. Females are more likely than males to volunteer their time to help children with personal problems and to engage in caregiving behavior. However, in situations in which males feel a sense of competence and circumstances that involve danger, males are more likely than females to help (Eagly & Crowley, 1986). For example,a male is more likely than a female to stop and help a person stranded by the roadside with a flat tire. Indeed, one study documented that males are more likely to help when the context is masculine in nature (MacGeorge, 2003).
The importance of considering gender in context is nowhere more apparent than when examining what is culturally prescribed behavior for females and males in different countries around the world (Matlin, 2012). Although there has been greater acceptance of androgyny and similarities in male and female behavior in the United States in recent years, in many countries gender roles have remained gender-specific. For example, in many Middle Eastern countries, the division of labor between males and females is dramatic. Males are socialized and schooled to work in the public sphere, females in the private world of home and child rearing. Also, in Iran the dominant view is that the man’s duty is to provide for his family and the woman’s is to care for her family and household. China also has been a male-dominant culture. Although women have made some strides in China, especially in urban areas, the male role is still dominant. Most males in China do not accept androgynous behavior or gender equity.


As children move into the middle and late childhood years, parents spend considerably less time with them (Grusec & others, 2013). In one study, parents spent less than half as much time with their children aged 5 to 12 in caregiving, instruction, reading, talking, and playing as when the children were younger (Hill & Stafford, 1980). Although parents spend less time with their children in middle and late childhood than in early childhood, parents continue to be extremely important in their children’s lives. In a recent analysis of the contributions of parents in middle and late childhood, the following conclusion was reached: “Parents serve as gatekeepers and provide scaffolding as children assume more responsibility for themselves and . . . regulate their own lives” (Huston & Ripke, 2006, p. 422).
Parents especially play an important role in supporting and stimulating children’s academic achievement in middle and late childhood (Huston & Ripke, 2006; Pomerantz, Cheung, & Qin, 2012). The value parents place on education can determine whether children do well in school. Parents not only influence children’s in-school achievement, but they also make decisions about children’s out-of-school activities. Whether children participate in sports, music, and other activities is heavily influenced by the extent to which parents sign up children for such activities and encourage their participation (Simpkins & others, 2006).
Elementary school children tend to receive less physical discipline than they did as preschoolers. Instead of spanking or coercive holding, their parents are more likely to use deprivation of privileges, appeals to the child’s self-esteem, comments designed to increase the child’s sense of guilt, and statements that the child is responsible for his or her actions.
During middle and late childhood, some control is transferred from parent to child. The process is gradual, and it produces coregulation rather than control by either the child or the parent alone. Parents continue to exercise general supervision and control, while children are allowed to engage in moment-to-moment self-regulation. The major shift to autonomy does not occur until about the age of 12 or later. A key developmental task as children move toward autonomy is learning to relate to adults outside the family on a regular basis — adults such as teachers who interact with children much differently from their parents.


Parents can play important roles as managers of children’s opportunities, as monitors of their behavior, and as social initiators and arrangers (Grusec & others, 2013; Parke & Clarke-Stewart, 2011). Mothers are more likely than fathers to engage in a managerial role in parenting.
Researchers have found that family management practices are positively related to students’ grades and self-responsibility, and negatively to school-related problems (Eccles, 2007; Taylor & Lopez, 2005). Among the most important family management practices in this regard are maintaining a structured and organized family environment, such as establishing routines for homework, chores, bedtime, and so on, and effectively monitoring the child’s behavior. A research review of the role of family functioning in determining African American students’ academic achievement found that when African American parents monitored their son’s academic achievement by ensuring that homework was completed, restricted time spent on nonproductive distractions (such as video games and TV), and participated in a consistent, positive dialogue with teachers and school officials, their son’s academic achievement benefited (Mandara, 2006).


This article discusses the importance of secure attachment in infancy and the role of sensitive parenting in attachment (Berlin, 2012; Bretherton, 2012; Thompson, 2013a). The attachment process continues to be an important aspect of children’s development in the childhood years. In middle and late childhood, attachment becomes more sophisticated and as children’s social worlds expand to include peers, teachers, and others, they typically spend less time with parents.
Kathryn Kerns and her colleagues (Brumariu, Kerns, & Siebert, 2012; Kerns & Siebert, 2012; Kerns, Siener, & Brumariu, 2011; Siener & Kerns, 2012) have studied links between attachment to parents and various child outcomes in the middle and late childhood years. They have found that during this period of development, secure attachment is associated with a lower level of internalized symptoms, anxiety, and depression in children (Brumariu & Kerns, 2010). For example, a recent study revealed that children who were less securely attached to their mother reported having more anxiety (Brumariu, Kerns, & Seibert, 2012). Also in this study, secure attachment was linked to a higher level of children’s emotion regulation and less difficulty in identifying emotions.


Not only has divorce become commonplace in the United States, so has remarriage. It takes time for parents to marry, have children, get divorced, and then remarry. Consequently, there are far more elementary and secondary school children than infant or preschool children living in stepfamilies.
The number of remarriages involving children has grown steadily in recent years. Also, divorces occur at a 10 percent higher rate in remarriages than in first marriages (Cherlin & Furstenberg, 1994). About half of all children whose parents divorce will have a stepparent within four years of the separation.
Remarried parents face some unique tasks. The couple must define and strengthen their marriage and at the same time renegotiate the biological parent-child relationships and establish stepparent-stepchild and stepsibling relationships (Coleman, Ganong, & Fine, 2004). The complex histories and multiple relationships make adjustment difficult in a stepfamily (Higginbotham & others, 2012). Only one-third of stepfamily couples stay remarried.
In some cases, the stepfamily may have been preceded by the death of a spouse. However, by far the largest number of stepfamilies are preceded by divorce rather than death (Pasley & Moorefield, 2004). Three common types of stepfamily structure are (1) stepfather, (2) stepmother, and (3) blended or complex. In stepfather families, the mother typically had custody of the children and remarried, introducing a stepfather into her children’s lives. In stepmother families, the father usually had custody and remarried, introducing a stepmother into his children’s lives. In a blended or complex stepfamily, both parents bring children from previous marriages to live in the newly formed stepfamily.
In E. Mavis Hetherington’s (2006) most recent longitudinal analyses, children and adolescents who had been in a simple stepfamily (stepfather or stepmother) for a number of years were adjusting better than in the early years of the remarried family and were functioning well in comparison with children and adolescents in conflictual nondivorced families and children and adolescents in complex (blended) stepfamilies. More than 75 percent of the adolescents in long-established simple stepfamilies described their relationships with their stepparents as “close” or “very close.” Hetherington (2006) concluded that in long-established simple stepfamilies adolescents seem to eventually benefit from the presence of a stepparent and the resources provided by the stepparent.
Children often have better relationships with their custodial parents (mothers in stepfather families, fathers in stepmother families) than with stepparents (Santrock, Sitterle, & Warshak, 1988). Also, children in simple stepfamilies (stepmother, stepfather) often show better adjustment than their counterparts in complex (blended) families (Hetherington & Kelly, 2002). As in divorced families, children in stepfamilies show more adjustment problems than children in nondivorced families (Hetherington & Kelly, 2002). The adjustment problems are similar to those found among children of divorced parents — academic problems and lower self-esteem, for example (Anderson & others, 1999). However, it is important to recognize that a majority of children in stepfamilies do not have such problems. In one analysis, 25 percent of children from stepfamilies showed adjustment problems compared with 10 percent in intact, neverdivorced families (Hetherington & Kelly, 2002).
Adolescence is an especially difficult time for the formation of a stepfamily (Gosselin, 2010). This difficulty may occur because becoming part of a stepfamily exacerbates normal adolescent concerns about identity, sexuality, and autonomy.


As children enter the elementary school years, reciprocity becomes especially important in peer interchanges. Researchers estimate that the percentage of time spent in social interaction with peers increases from approximately 10 percent at 2 years of age to more than 30 percent in middle and late childhood (Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 2006). In an early classic study, a typical day in elementary school included approximately 300 episodes with peers (Barker & Wright, 1951). As children move through middle and late childhood, the size of their peer group increases, and peer interaction is less closely supervised by adults. Until about 12 years of age, children’s preference for same-sex peer groups increases.


Which children are likely to be popular with their peers and which ones tend to be disliked? Developmentalists address this and similar questions by examining sociometric status, a term that describes the extent to which children are liked or disliked by their peer group (Cillessen, Schwartz, & Mayeux, 2011; Cillessen & van den Berg, 2012). Sociometric status is typically assessed by asking children to rate how much they like or dislike each of their classmates. Or it may be assessed by asking children to name the children they like the most and those they like the least.
Developmentalists have distinguished five peer statuses (Wentzel & Asher, 1995):
• Popular children are frequently nominated as a best friend and are rarely disliked by their peers.
• Average children receive an average number of both positive and negative nominations from their peers.
• Neglected children are infrequently nominated as a best friend but are not disliked by their peers.
• Rejected children are infrequently nominated as someone’s best friend and are actively disliked by their peers.
• Controversial children are frequently nominated both as someone’s best friend and as being disliked.
Popular children have a number of social skills that contribute to their being well liked. They give out reinforcements, listen carefully, maintain open lines of communication with peers, are happy, control their negative emotions, act like themselves, show enthusiasm and concern for others, and are self-confident without being conceited (Hartup, 1983; Rubin, Bukowski, & Parker, 1998). Rejected children often have serious adjustment problems (White & Kistner, 2011). One study evaluated 112 fifth-grade boys over a period of seven years until the end of high school (Kupersmidt & Coie, 1990). The best predictor of whether rejected children would engage in delinquent behavior or drop out of school later during adolescence was aggression toward peers in elementary school.
John Coie (2004, pp. 252–253) provided three reasons why aggressive, peer-rejected boys have problems in social relationships:
• “First, the rejected, aggressive boys are more impulsive and have problems sustaining attention. As a result, they are more likely to be disruptive of ongoing activities in the classroom and in focused group play.
• Second, rejected, aggressive boys are more emotionally reactive. They are aroused to anger more easily and probably have more difficulty calming down once aroused. Because of this they are more prone to become angry at peers and attack them verbally and physically. . . .
• Third, rejected children have fewer social skills in making friends and maintaining positive relationships with peers.
” Not all rejected children are aggressive (Hymel & others, 2011). Although aggression and its related characteristics of impulsiveness and disruptiveness underlie rejection about half the time, approximately 10 to 20 percent of rejected children are shy.
How can rejected children be trained to interact more effectively with their peers? Rejected children may be taught to more accurately assess whether the intentions of their peers are negative (Bierman & Powers, 2009). They may be asked to engage in role playing or to discuss hypothetical situations involving negative encounters with peers, such as when a peer cuts into a line ahead of them. In some programs, children are shown videotapes of appropriate peer interaction and asked to draw lessons from what they have seen (Ladd, Buhs, & Troop, 2004).


A boy accidentally trips and knocks another boy’s soft drink out of his hand. That boy misinterprets the encounter as hostile, which leads him to retaliate aggressively against the boy who tripped. Through repeated encounters of this kind, the aggressive boy’s classmates come to perceive him as habitually acting in inappropriate ways.
This encounter demonstrates the importance of social cognition — thoughts about social matters, such as the aggressive boy’s interpretation of an encounter as hostile and his classmates’ perception of his behavior as inappropriate (Dodge, 2011a, b). Children’s social cognition about their peers becomes increasingly important for understanding peer relationships in middle and late childhood. Of special interest are the ways in which children process information about peer relations and their social knowledge (Dodge, 2011b; White & Kistner, 2011).
Kenneth Dodge (1983, 2011b) argues that children go through six steps in processing information about their social world: they selectively attend to social cues, attribute intent, generate goals, access behavioral scripts from memory, make decisions, and enact behavior. Dodge has found that aggressive boys are more likely to perceive another child’s actions as hostile when the child’s intention is ambiguous. And when aggressive boys search for cues to determine a peer’s intention, they respond more rapidly, less efficiently, and less reflectively than do nonaggressive children. These are among the social cognitive factors believed to be involved in children’s conflicts.
Social knowledge also is involved in children’s ability to get along with peers. They need to know what goals to pursue in poorly defined or ambiguous situations, how to initiate and maintain a social bond, and what scripts to follow to get other children to be their friends. For example, as part of the script for getting friends, it helps to know that saying nice things, regardless of what the peer does or says, will make the peer like the child more.


Significant numbers of students are victimized by bullies (Lemstra & others, 2012). In a national survey of more than 15,000 sixth-through tenth-grade students, nearly one of every three students said that they had experienced occasional or frequent involvement as a victim or perpetrator in bullying (Nansel & others, 2001). In this study, bullying was defined as verbal or physical behavior intended to disturb someone less powerful. As shown in Figure 10.5, being belittled about looks or speech was the most frequent type of bullying. A recent study revealed that bullying decreased as students went from the fall of the sixth grade (20 percent were bullied extensively) through the spring of the eighth grade (6 percent were bullied extensively) (Nylund & others, 2007). Boys are more likely to be bullies than girls, but gender differences regarding victims of bullies is less clear (Peets, Hodges, & Salmivalli, 2011).
Who is likely to be bullied? In the study just described, boys and younger middle school students were most likely to be affected (Nansel & others, 2001). Children who said they were bullied reported more loneliness and difficulty in making friends, while those who did the bullying were more likely to have low grades and to smoke and drink alcohol. Researchers have found that anxious, socially withdrawn, and aggressive children are often the victims of bullying (Hanish & Guerra, 2004). Anxious and socially withdrawn children may be victimized because they are nonthreatening and unlikely to retaliate if bullied, whereas aggressive children may be the targets of bullying because their behavior is irritating to bullies (Rubin & others, 2011). A recent study revealed that having supportive friends was linked to a lower level of bullying and victimization (Kendrick, Jutengren, & Stattin, 2012).
An increasing concern is peer bullying and harassment on the Internet (called cyberbullying) (Donnerstein, 2012; Kowalsky, Limber, & Agatston, 2012; Valkenburg & Peter, 2011). A recent study of third- to sixth-graders revealed that engaging in cyber aggression was related to loneliness, lower self-esteem, fewer mutual friendships, and lower peer popularity (Schoffstall & Cohen, 2012). Information about preventing cyberbullying can be found at
Social contexts also influence bullying (Schwartz & others, 2010). Recent research indicates that 70 to 80 percent of victims and their bullies are in the same school classroom (Salmivalli & Peets, 2009). Classmates are often aware of bullying incidents and in many cases witness bullying. The larger social context of the peer group plays an important role in bullying (Salmivalli, Peets, & Hodges, 2011). In many cases, bullies torment victims to gain higher status in the peer group and bullies need others to witness their power displays.
What are the outcomes of bullying? Researchers have found that children who are bullied are more likely to experience depression and engage in suicide ideation and attempt suicide than their counterparts who have not been the victims of bullying (Fisher & others, 2012;Lemstra & others, 2012). A recent longitudinal study of more than 6,000 children found that children who were the victims of peer bullying from 4 to 10 years of age were more likely to engage in suicide ideation at 11½ years of age (Winsper & others, 2012). Consider these three recent cases in which bullying was linked to suicide: An 8-year-old jumped out of a two-story building in Houston; a 13-year-old hanged himself in Houston; and teenagers harassed a girl so mercilessly that she killed herself in Massachusetts (Meyers, 2010). A recent study also revealed that 11-year-olds who were victims of peer bullying were more likely to have a heightened risk of developing borderline personality disorder symptoms (a pervasive pattern of unstable interpersonal relationships, low self-image, and emotional difficulties) (Wolke & others, 2012).
What kinds of perspective taking and moral motivation skills do bullies, bully-victims, and prosocial children tend to exhibit? A research review of school-based interventions yielded mixed results (Vreeman & Carroll, 2007).
School-based interventions vary greatly, ranging from involving the whole school in an antibullying campaign to providing individualized social skills training (Alsaker & Valanover, 2012; Roland & Midthassel, 2012; Strohmeier & Noam, 2012). One of the most promising bullying intervention programs has been created by Dan Olweus. This program focuses on 6- to 15-year-olds with the goal of decreasing opportunities and rewards for bullying. School staff are instructed in ways to improve peer relations and make schools safer. When properly implemented, the program reduces bullying by 30 to 70 percent (Ericson, 2001; Olweus, 2003). Information on how to implement the program can be obtained from the Center for the Prevention of Violence at the University of Colorado (


Friendship is an important aspect of children’s development (MacEvoy & Asher, 2012; Numsoo, Einav, & Hood, 2012; Piehler, Veronneau, & Dishion, 2012; Rose & others, 2012). Like adult friendships, children’s friendships are typically characterized by similarity (Brechwald & Prinstein, 2011). Throughout childhood, friends are more similar than dissimilar in terms of age, sex, race, and many other factors. Friends often have similar attitudes toward school, similar educational aspirations, and closely aligned achievement orientations.
Why are children’s friendships important? Willard Hartup (1983, 1996, 2009) has studied peer relations and friendship for more than three decades. He recently concluded that friends can provide cognitive and emotional resources from childhood through old age. For example, friends can foster self-esteem and a sense of well-being.
More specifically, children’s friendships can serve six functions (Gottman & Parker, 1987):
Companionship. Friendship provides children with a familiar partner and playmate, someone who is willing to spend time with them and join in collaborative activities.
Stimulation. Friendship provides children with interesting information, excitement, and amusement.
Physical support. Friendship provides time, resources, and assistance.
Ego support. Friendship provides the expectation of support, encouragement, and feedback, which helps children maintain an impression of themselves as competent, attractive, and worthwhile individuals.
Social comparison. Friendship provides information about where the child stands vis-à-vis others and whether the child is doing okay.
Affection and intimacy. Friendship provides children with a warm, close, trusting relationship with another individual. Intimacy in friendships is characterized by self disclosure and the sharing of private thoughts. Research reveals that intimate friendships may not appear until early adolescence (Berndt & Perry, 1990).
Although having friends can be a developmental advantage, not all friendships are alike (Vitaro, Boivin, & Bukowski, 2009; Wentzel, 2013). People differ in the company they keep — that is, who their friends are. Developmental advantages occur when children have friends who are socially skilled and supportive. However, it is not developmentally advantageous to have coercive and conflict-ridden friendships (Laursen & Pursell, 2009). A recent study found that students who engaged in classroom aggressive-disruptive behavior were more likely to have aggressive friends (Powers & Bierman, 2012).
Friendship also plays an important role in children’s emotional well-being and academic success. Students with friends who are academically oriented are more likely to achieve success in school themselves (Wentzel, 2013). In one study, sixth-grade students who did not have a friend engaged in less prosocial behavior (cooperation, sharing, helping others), had lower grades, and were more emotionally distressed (depression, lower levels of well-being) than their counterparts who had one or more friends (Wentzel, Barry, & Caldwell, 2004). In this study, two years later, in the eighth grade, the students who did not have a friend in the sixth grade continued to be more emotionally distressed.
For most children, entering the first grade signals new obligations. They develop new relationships and adopt new standards by which to judge themselves. School provides children with a rich source of new ideas to shape their sense of self. They will spend many years in schools as members of small societies in which there are tasks to be accomplished, people to socialize with and be socialized by, and rules that define and limit behavior, feelings, and attitudes. By the time students graduate from high school, they have spent 12,000 hours in the classroom.


The constructivist approach to instruction is a learner-centered approach that emphasizes the importance of individuals actively constructing their knowledge and understanding with guidance from the teacher. In the constructivist view, teachers should not attempt to simply pour information into children’s minds. Rather, children should be encouraged to explore their world, discover knowledge, reflect, and think critically with careful monitoring and meaningful guidance from the teacher (O’Donnell, 2012; Slavin, 2012). Constructivists believe that for too long in American education children have been required to sit still, be passive learners, and rotely memorize irrelevant as well as relevant information (Loyens, Kirschner, & Paas, 2012).
Today, constructivism may include an emphasis on collaboration—children working with each other in their efforts to know and understand (Slavin, 2012). A teacher with a constructivist instructional philosophy would not have children memorize information rotely but would give them opportunities to meaningfully construct the knowledge and understand the material while guiding their learning (O’Donnell, 2012).
By contrast, the direct instruction approach is a structured, teacher-centered approach that is characterized by teacher direction and control, high teacher expectations for students’ progress, maximum time spent by students on academic tasks, and efforts by the teacher to keep negative affect to a minimum. An important goal in the direct instruction approach is maximizing student learning time.
Advocates of the constructivist approach argue that the direct instruction approach turns children into passive learners and does not adequately challenge them to think in critical and creative ways (Webb, Metha, & Jordan, 2013). Direct instruction enthusiasts say that the constructivist approaches do not give enough attention to the content of a discipline, such as history or science. They also believe that the constructivist approaches are too relativistic and vague.
Some experts in educational psychology believe that many effective teachers use both a constructivist and a direct instruction approach rather than relying exclusively on one or the other (Bransford & others, 2006; Parkay, 2013). Further, some circumstances may call more for a constructivist approach, others for a direct instruction approach. For example, experts increasingly recommend an explicit, intellectually engaging direct instruction approach when teaching students who have a reading or a writing disability (Berninger & O’Malley, 2011).


Since the 1990s, the U.S. public and governments at every level have demanded increased accountability from schools. One result was the spread of state-mandated testing to measure just what students had or had not learned (Elliott, Kurz, & Neergaard, 2012; Russell & Airasian, 2012). Many states identified objectives for students in their state and created tests to measure whether students were meeting those objectives. This approach became national policy in 2002 when the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation was signed into law.
Advocates argue that statewide standardized testing will have a number of positive effects. These include improved student performance; more time spent teaching the subjects that are tested; high expectations for all students; identification of poorly performing schools, teachers, and administrators; and improved confidence in schools as test scores rise.
Critics argue that the NCLB legislation is doing more harm than good (Noddings, 2007; Sadker & Zittleman, 2012). One criticism stresses that using a single test as the sole indicator of students’ progress and competence presents a very narrow view of students’ skills (Lewis, 2007). This criticism is similar to the one leveled at IQ tests. To assess student progress and achievement, many psychologists and educators emphasize that a number of measures should be used, including tests, quizzes, projects, portfolios, classroom observations, and so on. Also, the tests used as part of NCLB don’t measure creativity, motivation, persistence, flexible thinking, and social skills (Stiggins, 2008). Critics point out that teachers end up spending far too much class time “teaching to the test” by drilling students and having them memorize isolated facts at the expense of teaching that focuses on thinking skills, which students need for success in life (Pressley, 2007). Also some individuals are concerned that in the era of No Child Left Behind policy there is a neglect of gifted students in the effort to raise the achievement level of students who are not doing well (Clark, 2008).
Consider also the following: Each state is allowed to have different criteria for what constitutes passing or failing grades on tests designated for NCLB inclusion. An analysis of NCLB data indicated that almost every fourth-grade student in Mississippi knows how to read but only half of Massachusetts’ students do (Birman & others, 2007). Because state standards are so varied, state-by-state comparisons of success on NCLB tests are likely to be unreliable. In the analysis of state-by-state comparisons, many states have taken the safe route and kept the standard for passing low. Thus, while one of NCLB’s goals is to raise standards for achievement in U.S. schools, apparently allowing states to set their own standards has lowered achievement standards.
Despite such criticisms, the U.S. Department of Education is committed to implementing No Child Left Behind, and schools are making accommodations to meet the requirements of this law. Indeed, most educators support the importance of establishing high expectations and high standards of excellence for students and teachers. At issue, however, is whether the tests and procedures mandated by NCLB are the best ones for achieving these high standards (Witte, 2012; Waugh & Gronlund, 2013).


Many children living in poverty face problems that present barriers to their learning (Chen & Brooks-Gunn, 2012; Rowley, Kurtz-Costes, & Cooper, 2011). They might have parents who don’t set high educational standards for them, who are incapable of reading to them, or who don’t have enough money to pay for educational materials and experiences, such as books and trips to zoos and museums. They may be malnourished or live in areas where crime and violence are a way of life. One study revealed that neighborhood disadvantage (involving such characteristics as low neighborhood income and high unemployment) was linked to less consistent, less stimulating, and more punitive parenting, and ultimately to negative child outcomes such as behavioral problems and low verbal ability (Kohen & others, 2008). Another study revealed that the longer children experienced poverty, the more detrimental the poverty was to their cognitive development (Najman & others, 2009).
Compared with schools in higher-income areas, schools in lowincome areas are more likely to have more students with low achievement test scores, low graduation rates, and smaller percentages of students going to college; they are more likely to have young teachers with less experience; and they are more likely to encourage rote learning (Nelson, Palonsky, & McCarthy, 2013). Many of the schools’ buildings and classrooms are old and crumbling. These are the types of undesirable conditions Jonathan Kozol (2005) observed in many inner-city schools, including the South Bronx in New York City. In sum, far too many schools in low-income neighborhoods provide students with environments that are not conducive to effective learning (Chen & Brooks-Gunn, 2012; Duncan, 2012; Duncan & others, 2013). Might intervention with families of children living in poverty improve children’s school performance? In a recent experimental study, Aletha Huston and her colleagues (2006; Gupta, Thornton, & Huston, 2008) evaluated the effects of New Hope — a program designed to increase parental employment and reduce family poverty — on adolescent development. They randomly assigned families with 6- to 10-year-old children living in poverty to the New Hope program or a control group. New Hope offered adults living in poverty who were employed 30 or more hours a week benefits that were designed to increase family income (a wage supplement which ensured that net income increased as parents earned more) and provide work supports through subsidized child care (for any child under age 13) and health insurance. Management services were provided to New Hope participants to assist them in job searches and other needs. The New Hope program was available to the experimental group families for three years (until the children were 9 to 13 years old). Five years after the program began and two years after it had ended, the program’s effects on the children were examined when they were 11 to 16 years old. Compared with adolescents in the control group, New Hope adolescents were more competent at reading, had better school performance, were less likely to be in special education classes, had more positive social skills, and were more likely to be in formal after-school arrangements. New Hope parents reported better psychological well-being and a greater sense of self-efficacy in managing their adolescents than control-group parents did.
In further assessment, the influence of the New Hope program on 9- to 19-year-olds after they left the program was evaluated (McLoyd & others, 2011). Positive outcomes especially occurred for African American boys, who became more optimistic about their future employment and career prospects after experiencing the New Hope program.


More than one-third of all African American and almost one-third of all Latino students attend schools in the 47 largest city school districts in the United States, compared with only 5 percent of all White and 22 percent of all Asian American students. Many of these inner-city schools continue to be racially segregated, are grossly underfunded, and do not provide adequate opportunities for children to learn effectively. Thus, the effects of SES and the effects of ethnicity are often intertwined (Golnick & Chinn, 2013). The school experiences of students from different ethnic groups vary considerably (Nieto & Bode, 2012; Urdan, 2012). African American and Latino students are much less likely than non-Latino White or Asian American students to be enrolled in academic, college preparatory programs and are much more likely to be enrolled in remedial and special education programs. Asian American students are far more likely than other ethnic minority groups to take advanced math and science courses in high school. African American students are twice as likely as Latinos, Native Americans, or non-Latino Whites to be suspended from school.
However, it is very important to note that diversity characterizes every ethnic group (Spring, 2013). For example, the higher percentage of Asian American students in advanced classes is mainly true for students with Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, and East Indian cultural backgrounds, but students with Hmong and Vietnamese cultural backgrounds have had less academic success.
Following are some strategies for improving relationships among ethnically diverse students:
Turn the class into a jigsaw classroom. When Eliot Aronson was a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, the school system contacted him for ideas on how to reduce the increasing racial tension in classrooms. Aronson (1986) developed the concept of a “jigsaw classroom” in which students from different cultural backgrounds are placed in a cooperative group in which they have to construct different parts of a project to reach a common goal. Aronson used the term jigsaw because he saw the technique as much like a group of students cooperating to put different pieces together to complete a jigsaw puzzle. How might this work? Team sports, drama productions, and music performances are examples of contexts in which students participate cooperatively to reach a common goal; however, the jigsaw technique also lends itself to group science projects, history reports, and other learning experiences with a variety of subject matter.
Encourage students to have positive personal contact with diverse other students. Mere contact does not do the job of improving relationships with diverse others. For example, busing ethnic minority students to predominantly White schools, or vice versa, has not reduced prejudice or improved interethnic relations. What matters is what happens after children get to school. Especially beneficial in improving interethnic relations is sharing one’s worries, successes, failures, coping strategies, interests, and other personal information with people of other ethnicities. When this happens, people tend to look at others as individuals rather than as members of a homogeneous group. • Reduce bias. Teachers can reduce bias by displaying images of children from diverse ethnic and cultural groups, selecting play materials and classroom activities that encourage cultural understanding, helping students resist stereotyping, and working with parents to reduce children’s exposure to bias and prejudice at home.
View the school and community as a team. James Comer (1988, 2004, 2006, 2010) advocates a community-based, team approach as the best way to educate children. Three important aspects of the Comer Project for Change are (1) a governance and management team that develops a comprehensive school plan, assessment strategy, and staff development plan; (2) a mental health or school support team; and (3) a parents’ program. Comer believes that the entire school community should have a cooperative rather than an adversarial attitude. The Comer program is currently operating in more than 600 schools in 26 states. Read further about James Comer’s work in the Connecting with Careers profile.
• Be a competent cultural mediator. Teachers can play a powerful role as cultural mediators by being sensitive to biased content in materials and classroom interactions, learning more about diff erent ethnic groups, being aware of children’s ethnic attitudes, viewing students of color positively, and thinking of positive ways to get parents of color more involved as partners with teachers in educating children.


In the past three decades, the poor performance of American children in math and science has become well publicized (Educational Testing Service, 1992). In a large-scale comparison of math and science achievement by fourth-grade students in 2007, the average fourth-grade math score for the United States was higher than for 23 of the 35 countries and lower than for 8 countries (all in Asia and Europe) (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009). Fourth-graders from Hong Kong had the highest math score. The average fourth-grade U.S. math score did improve slightly (11 points) from the same assessment in 1995, but some Asian countries improved their scores considerably more—the Hong Kong score was 50 points higher and the Slovenia score 40 points higher in 2007 than in 1995, for example.
In 2007, the fourth-grade U.S. science score was higher than those in 25 countries and lower than those in 4 countries (all in Asia). However, the average U.S. fourth-grade science score decreased 3 points from 1995 to 2007 while the science scores for some countries increased dramatically — 63 points for Singapore, 56 points for Latvia, and 55 points for Iran, for example.
Harold Stevenson’s (1995, 2000; Stevenson, Hofer, & Randel, 1999; Stevenson & others, 1990) research explores possible reasons for the poor performance of American students compared with students in selected Asian countries. Stevenson and his colleagues have completed five cross-cultural comparisons of students in the United States, China, Taiwan, and Japan. In these studies, Asian students consistently outperform American students. And, the longer the students are in school, the wider the gap becomes between Asian and American students — the lowest difference is in the first grade, the highest in the eleventh grade (the highest grade studied).
To learn more about the reasons for these large cross-cultural differences, Stevenson and his colleagues spent thousands of hours observing in classrooms, as well as interviewing and surveying teachers, students, and parents. They found that the Asian teachers spent more of their time teaching math than did the American teachers. For example, more than one-fourth of total classroom time in the first grade was spent on math instruction in Japan, compared with only one-tenth of the time in the U.S. first-grade classrooms. Also, the Asian students were in school an average of 240 days a year, compared with 178 days in the United States.
In addition to the substantially greater time spent on math instruction in the Asian schools than the American schools, differences were found between the Asian and American parents. The American parents had much lower expectations for their children’s education and achievement than did the Asian parents. Also, the American parents were more likely to believe that their children’s math achievement was due to innate ability; the Asian parents were more likely to say that their children’s math achievement was the consequence of effort and training (see Figure 10.6). The Asian students were more likely to do math homework than were the American students, and the Asian parents were far more likely to help their children with their math homework than were the American parents (Chen & Stevenson, 1989).
Related to the differences between Asian and U.S. parents in explaining effort and ability, Carol Dweck (2006, 2013) described the importance of children’s mindset, which she defines as the cognitive view individuals develop for themselves. She concludes that individuals have one of two mindsets: (1) a fixed mindset, in which they believe that their qualities are carved in stone and cannot change; or (2) a growth mindset, in which they believe their qualities can change and improve through their effort.
Dweck (2006, 2013) argued that individuals’ mindsets influence whether they will be optimistic or pessimistic, what their goals will be and how hard they will strive to reach those goals, and what they will achieve. Dweck says that mindsets begin to be shaped in childhood as children interact with parents, teachers, and coaches, who themselves have either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. She described the growth mindset of Chicago second-grade teacher Marva Collins, a masterful teacher. Collins’ goal is to change apathetic, fixed-mindset children into growth-mindset children. On the first day of school, she tells her students, many of whom are repeating the second grade Marva Collins’ second-grade students usually have to start off with the lowest level of reader available, but by the end of the school year, most of the students are reading at the fifth-grade level.
Related to her emphasis on encouraging students to develop a growth mindset, Dweck and her colleagues (Blackwell & Dweck, 2008; Blackwell & others, 2007; Dweck, 2013; Dweck & Master, 2009) have recently incorporated information about the brain’s plasticity into their effort to improve students’ motivation to achieve and succeed. In one study, they assigned two groups of students to eight sessions of either (1) study skills instruction or (2) study skills instruction plus information about the importance of developing a growth mindset (called incremental theory in the research) (Blackwell & others, 2007). One of the exercises in the growth mindset group was titled “You Can Grow Your Brain” and emphasized that the brain is like a muscle that can change and grow as it is exercised and develops new connections. Students were informed that the more you challenge your brain to learn, the more your brain cells grow. Both groups had a pattern of declining math scores prior to the intervention. Following the intervention, the group who only received the study skills instruction continued to decline, but the group that received the combination of study skills instruction plus the growth mindset emphasis reversed the downward trend and improved their math achievement.
In other work, Dweck has been creating a computer-based workshop, “Brainology,” to teach students that their intelligence can change (Blackwell & Dweck, 2008; Dweck, 2013). Students experience six modules about how the brain works and how they can make their brain improve (see Figure 10.7). After the program was tested in 20 New York City schools, students strongly endorsed the value of the computer-based brain modules. Said one student, “I will try harder because I know that the more you try the more your brain knows” (Dweck & Master, 2009, p. 137).
Other research by Eva Pomerantz and her colleagues (Pomerantz, Cheung, & Qin, 2012; Pomerantz, Kim, & Cheung, 2012) indicates that the more involved parents are in children’s learning, the higher the level of achievement children will attain. As indicated earlier, East Asian parents spend considerably more time helping their children with homework than do U.S. parents (Chen & Stevenson, 1989). Th is higher level of East Asian parental involvement in children’s learning is present as early as the preschool years and continues in the elementary school years (Cheung & Pomerantz, 2012; Siegler & Mu, 2008). In East Asia, children’s learning is considered to be a far greater responsibility of parents than in the United States (Pomerantz, Kim, & Cheung, 2012). However, a recent study revealed that when U.S. parents are more involved in their children’s learning, the children’s achievement benefits (Cheung & Pomerantz, 2012). In this study, for both U.S. and Chinese children, the more parents were involved in their children’s learning, the more motivated the children were to achieve in school for parent-oriented reasons and this was linked to enhanced self-regulated learning and higher grades.